Before there was an Endgame, before there was a Batman versus a Superman, before there was even a man to talk about the Avengers Initiative, there was the X-Men.
X-Men is one of Marvel’s most beloved franchises, with successful animated shows with the 90s X-Men cartoon, a great spinoff series in Legion, and successful spinoff films for older audiences in Deadpool and Logan.
But with “rumors” of the X-Men going into the MCU since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox and with Dark Phoenix being called the final film in the Fox series even though it wasn’t going to be so before the Disney/Fox acquisition and with the spin off film New Mutants being delayed multiple times to an almost comical degree, It’s time for us look back at the series and see how we got here with an X-Men retrospective.
Just to keep in mind, I will only be talking about the main series X-Men and the Wolverine trilogy, so I won’t be talking about Deadpool.
Bear in mind before reading, I’ve been a fan of the X-Men comics and characters for a long time and rewatched these films for the first time in a long while without nostalgia for them.
The first X-Men movie directed by pedophile Bryan Singer, is bad.
It’s become a victim of time and time has not been kind to the 2000s X-Men films at all. The cast is fine, Hugh Jackman has always been good as Wolverine, but the issue isn’t the casting, it’s their characterization or lack thereof.
Pedophile Director Bryan Singer has this trend of only having cardboard cutouts of characters in his films. In this film Rogue is completely neutered, where she only is an angsty teen that is only a vessel for the audience to introduce us to the other X-Men who couldn’t be more bland.
The only thing we really get to know about the other X-Men is that they have…powers, I guess? Probably the most unforgivable thing is how Cyclops is treated in these films, but we’ll get to that later.
The only performances that really stood out to me were Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier, Ian McKellen as Magneto, and Rebecca Romijn as Mystique.
Stewart and McKellen are able to be memorable for giving very theatrical performances while Romijn has this great sexual physicality to her that she excelled at in De Palma’s Femme Fatale and is able to characterize her character on her own.
Other than that, the film is extremely bland and boring, afraid to embrace the ridiculousness of the superhero genre, like many superhero films did at the time, and instead went for a Matrix leather aesthetic that clearly hasn’t aged well at all.
Boring direction, boring writing, and boring characters leads to a very boring and unforigivable film.
I know people consider this the best of the series but I found X2 to be just as boring as its predecessor for the same reason as there’s nothing here for me to care about whatsoever.
They decide to add the love triangle between Jean Grey, Logan, and Cyclops but there’s no chemistry between any of them so it just feels pointless and unneeded.
Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler is embarrassing, almost as much as Toad was in the first X-Men film.
Instead of repeating the same criticisms as I did before, I wanted to discuss how the politics of this film have not aged well whatsoever and with that we have to talk about pedophile director Bryan Singer.
X2 has a scene where Rogue, Wolverine, Pyro, and Bobby Drake hide out at Bobby’s house where Bobby reveals to his family that he is a mutant. This is clearly supposed to be a metaphor for coming out of the closet, hit harder in the head with Bobby’s mother saying, “Can’t you just not be a mutant?”
The X-Men have always been a metaphor for oppressed people since the comics have started and with Bryan Singer being gay, it makes sense he wanted to specifically have the X-Men be a metaphor for that.
What bothers me personally is that it comes off as insincere now that we know that Bryan Singer is a pedophile. Part of me has this sick feeling that Singer used this platform to make people accept him more where he abused his power by sexually grooming/assaulting young boys, who were the target audience for X-Men.
It’s not wrong to focus on marginalized groups in films or use them as metaphor in superhero films, but it comes off as insincere when you are a pedophile. Besides that, nothing much to add other than the film is extremely bland and boring directing and acting wise like the previous film.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
With Bryan Singer not available to direct the last X-Men film with him directing Superman Returns with famous child groomer Kevin Spacey, Fox decided the man for the job to direct the end of the X-Men Trilogy would be…Brett Ratner, the director of The Rush Hour trilogy.
Weirdly enough we also have another abuser directing this franchise who let’s not forget outed Ellen Page in front of everyone on set during filming.
Not only was it questionable to have filmmaker who seems unfit to take over an X-Men film, we also have a film that is trying to squish the entire Dark Phoenix Saga into one film.
X-Men: The Last Stand is a film where everything happens…and nothing happens.
Many things happen in this film, which are incredibly rushed and are never elaborated or touched on in any significant way but the way the film ends makes it seem like nothing that we have seen in this film mattered at all.
Charles Xavier dies, but then it’s revealed he isn’t actually dead. Magneto loses his powers, but the final shot shows him moving a chess piece with his mind…so he hasn’t really lost his powers so this mutant serum that’s supposed to take away mutants powers has no use in the real world so it doesn’t matter whatsoever. But hey, Jean Grey and Cyclops die… but then are resurrected in Days of Future Past, a movie that basically makes these movies irrelevant.
So what was the point to this movie? Nothing! Nothing at all! Which is probably why it’s become one of the most reviled superhero films of all time.
You make a movie with huge stakes only to tell us “lol jk” and have none of it matter whatsoever.
X-Men: The Last Stand is a film where nothing matters at all so there’s no point to it existing whatsoever. I would call it the worst of the X-Men films, but oh boy, the next film really set the bar lower than it has ever been for the X-Men films. A film so outrageously misguided and poor, that it overshadowed everything bad about this film.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is one of the worst films ever made. I wish I was being hyperbolic.
It’s boring, passionless, pointless, and extremely stupid. The film has the opportunity to be good, with an interesting opening credits with Wolverine and Sabertooth fighting in every war, but instead we get:
- Wolverine being sad cause his girlfriend is killed.
- Becoming part of the Weapon X program but then they want to kill him so he tries to track down his brother Sabertooth.
- Wolverine meeting a bunch of random X-Men characters that are either forgotten, killed off, or completely botched.
There’s nothing to care about in this film and there’s really no reason for it to exist.
Did I really needed a feature length version of the flashback of Wolverine in the Weapon X program from the X-Men? No.
The X-Men series at this point only cares about cool set pieces and visual effects, nothing about story. Just like The Last Stand nothing really matters cause Wolverine gets shot in the head and forgets everything we just saw. Oh and Cyclops is still useless and boring in this. Why was he in this at all? It really baffles me as to why Cyclops is in this movie. Who gives a shit about movie Cyclops? I know people hate how they did Deadpool in this movie and all I have to say is, yea, it’s bad. Moving on.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
X-Men: First Class is the best film in the main series.
Matthew Vaughn improves on everything pedophile director Bryan Singer failed with the first two X-Men. He wrote better characterization for Charles, Erik, and Mystique, and he added a more interesting directing style.
By having it be an homage to old 60’s spy ensemble films, Vaughn ended up doing a better job with using all of the ensemble as an important piece to the story.
The opening shot of the fist X-Men is recreated here with Erik being separated from his mother while they’re in Auschwitz.
Vaughn goes more into the anger Erik has for the Nazi’s specifically the main villain Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon, who killed Erik’s mother.
Charles is the straight man and leader of the group who tries to help everyone use their powers for good. James McAvoy is great at giving a cocky yet smart performance as Charles in this film and plays off extremely well with Erik.
Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is given way more depth in this film as someone trying to be comfortable in their own skin.
The best new addition to this film is Rose Byrne as Moira McTaggert who has great chemistry as a love interest for Charles.
In First Class, for the very first time in this series, I cared about every character in this film. I wanted them to succeed because I liked all of them. The tie ins with the political turmoil of the 60’s works extremely well and it leads to the best 3rd act in all the X-Men films.
Bringing all the emotion and choice made this easily the most impactful of the series because for the first time we were able to know who these people really were and care about them. This film takes its time, never wasting a moment. We feel Erik’s anger as that coin goes right through Shaw’s head, yet simultaneously we feel Charles’ sadness and pain as he feels his best friend going down this dark path.
This film is the first X-men film that truly cares about emotions and feeling with these people. They are no longer caricatures, they are people we love and care for, and we feel all the love, pain, frustration, catharsis, and melancholy throughout this film.
The Wolverine (2013)
With the bad reputation of X-Men Origins: Wolverine lurking in the background, The Wolverine is able to be a great superhero film and a great study into the mortality of Wolverine himself.
I have realized that the reason I didn’t care for Wolverine in the previous X-Men films was simple, he’s too powerful. For me, a great character goes through emotional or physical pain but is able to overcome that and save the day, despite the odds against them.
I never cared for Wolverine’s life because I always felt safe cause Wolverine is seemingly immortal and can heal up fairly quickly and kill his enemies even faster.
In this film, we have Wolverine as a broken man. He has killed the woman he loves, is haunted by her in his dreams, and just wants to die.
By having more mature themes like the nature of loss and regret in a 100 million+ superhero film we are rewarded with a richer experience.
The best decision Fox made was getting Mangold on board with the Wolverine films.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
After finding new success with Vaughn, they made Days of Future Past which Vaughn didn’t want to follow up First Class with.
According to an interview Vaughn says, “When I finished the Days of Future Past script with it ready to go I looked at it and said, “I really think it would be fun to cast Tom Hardy or someone as the young Wolverine and then bring it all together at the end.” Fox read Days of Future Past and went “Oh, this is too good! We’re doing it now!” And I said, “Well what do you do next? Trust me you’ve got nowhere to go.” Then they did Apocalypse and it’s like… If you flip that ’round even it would have been better. Hollywood doesn’t understand pacing. Their executives are driving 100 miles-per-hour looking in the rear-view mirror and not understanding why they crash.”
While I enjoyed Days of Future Past more this time around than I did back in 2014, it definitely feels like there’s a good movie in between First Class and Days of Future Past missing.
Singer’s direction is a lot better with this and the writing is better, probably because Singer had no involvement with the screenplay this time around.
As much shit as I’ve given pedophile Bryan Singer throughout this retrospective, I’ll admit that this film has some of his best directing, being a good homage to 70’s films in the vein of espionage thrillers and sci-fi apocalypse films.
The cast is good as usual and Peters is fun as Quicksilver, with his whole sequence being the best part of the film, but man do I wish Vaughn was able to make his X-Men trilogy.
Singer seems to not have cared much for Vaughn’s film since he kills off/leaves out all the good characters from First Class. Singer has this obsession with being the dominant voice of the series, but how can he when he has no consistency throughout the X-Men film franchise?
Vaughn was right by saying how studios speed up to 100 mph and get surprised when they crash.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
The beginning of the end.
X-Men: Apocalypse is a disaster from all objective points of view, but I enjoy it for its silly 80s paranoia/campy style.
The recurring problem with the Singer X-Men films arises yet again: characters are completely useless and no one cares about them.
Remember Psylocke? Remember Nightcrawler? Remember Angel? Remember Storm? With pedophile Bryan Singer back in the writing chair, it’s no wonder we’d have 2 dimensional characters back again and have him kill off the remaining characters we liked and bring in half assed versions of younger Storm, Jean Grey, and Cyclops.
The film rushes almost everything. Why introduce a character like Apocalypse and remove all his power or intrigue? This guy could have been Thanos levels of villainy for the X-Men, instead he becomes a C-list villain and a waste of perfectly good Oscar Isaac.
Apocalypse decides to do the dumbest thing and introduce the Dark Phoenix saga, when we barely know this Jean Grey at all. It’s just another example of Hollywood rushing and instead of making something memorable, it’s just another cash grab that will be forgotten within a few weeks.
Say what you will about the MCU but at least It took 19 movies to get to Thanos.
X-Men seemingly doesn’t care about storytelling, it cares about trending, going to the next big thing, then the next big thing, which is probably why this series is about to implode with Dark Phoenix.
As much shit as I’ve given the X-Men main series, I have to commend Mangold for picking up the pieces from the unsalvageable X-Men: Origins and redeeming the best character in the series with the underrated The Wolverine.
It only made sense for him to conclude his Wolverine redemption saga with the best film in the series, Logan.
Mangold didn’t care about trends and other weak bullshit that most modern superheroes films linger towards now, he cared about making a great movie based off of a great comic book and a great character.
Logan is a film about death and legacy.
Hugh Jackman’s Logan is a beaten old man who wants to die and have people forget about him. He feels remorse for the violence he has caused and wants to spend the rest of his days deserted with Charles Xavier as the mutants die out.
This plan is perfectly in motion until he finds a little girl who could be the last hope for the mutants.
Unlike the bombastic and effects heavy spectacles of the earlier films, Logan is a beautiful superhero film in the form of a western.
It’s emotionally the strongest as well because we get to see Wolverine not as a simple comic book superhero or a badass, but as a vulnerable and decaying human being.
The world of Logan is rotten and dead and only hope can bring it back alive. We start out in the barren deadness of the desert to the beauty and life fullness of the forest where Logan meets his bloody end.
A great send off for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and a film that should have started more mature superhero films.
But that’s not what we got, did we?
The X-Men film series is sloppy, ugly, fun, exciting, disappointing, and insane all together.
One of the most inconsistent film franchises I’ve ever seen. We were heading in an interesting direction with Logan and Deadpool but Hollywood ignored those two successes.
By the time I write this, Dark Phoenix is getting critically panned and I’m honestly not surprised at this point.
The X-Men series has become an old dog, who can be admired from a distance, warts and all, but at this point needs to be put down.
I think a fresh new start for the X-Men is definitely needed, but I’m still not looking forward to Disney toning things down to child’s fare and creating films that will be forgotten within a month.
The future of the X-Men is uncertain but it is interesting to see how the film franchise that made all of this possible for other superhero films has ended not in a bang, but a whimper.